"You're Doing It Wrong"
There's a shooting/editing technique out there that I see is being used more and more often, and every time I see it employed, it is being done wrong. Video and film has a well-established and common visual "grammar", and in this case I'm the "grammar police".
I'm talking about what I call the "backstage/profile cut-away". It probably has other names too.
What I'm talking about is when you have a head-on shot of a presenter, talking directly to the camera in "first person" (That's important; the presenter is addressing the audience thru the lens, eye to eye, not looking off to an unseen interviewer person to the right or left of the lens), and a second camera angle, from the profile side of the presenter, is taken as the cut-away, instead of a traditional re-framing from the first camera (to a tighter or wider shot, but the same viewpoint).
This is a mis-use of the shot, it is visually disturbing, inappropriate, and here's why.
The profile cut-away is meant to convey a sense of being "back-stage", watching in a third-person perspective. If the presenter is talking to themselves, out loud, - say, doing the "to be or not to be" monologue from "Hamlet" - cutting from the front-facing shot to a profile shot works just fine. Likewise, in a 2-shot, where the people are talking to each other and the camera is an unseen third-party observer, a profile single cut-away is fine.
And again, it is fine to take a shot like this if the presenter/actor is interacting with an audience, and the camera is again, an omniscient third-person observer, getting a sense of what it feels to be on-stage next to or just behind the individual who is talking *to someone else other than the camera*.
But when you ARE talking TO the camera lens, the sudden switch to third-person is wrong. I will admit only one exception, and that is if you start the video with the profile shot, and never go back to it again for the duration of the scene.
Otherwise, it's just wrong. Imagine, if you will, a conversation between you and your friend, standing in your foyer, and suddenly, the other person breaks eye contact, turns forty-five to ninety degrees, and talks to a blank wall, unmotivated, while your conversation continues. He's not studying the cool velvet Elvis portrait on your wall, he's just talking to you but not facing you. He's not dramatizing some scene with another person for you, it's still the same conversation about, say, where you want to go for lunch. It's awkward and autistic-seeming. It's out of place.
If one wants to cut to a side-angle, the presenter has to turn and face the new angle, to keep the first-person perspective with the lens/audience. And that is a very old technique; we used it a lot in the 80's to make a video seem less static and more dynamic than just Medium-shot>closeup>Wide>Medium. The key though was that the presenter has to turn head/body and re-establish eye contact on the cut. Or the shot doesn't work.
I think a lot of beginner shooters have seen this done somewhere, and don't stop to analyze the semiotics of the shot, they are just aping a shot they saw somewhere else, without understanding the underlying context for that shot. What I'm seeing more and more in YouTube videos is people substituting the profile cut-away when a change from front-facing medium shot to a close-up or wide shot would be more appropriate. It's all about the difference between first-person and third-person viewpoint, and the profile cut-away is a nonsensical momentary shift into third person in an inappropriate moment.
Now, I'm going to adjust my belt-onion and go yell at clouds for a bit, but I'm curious to know if I'm the only guy here that gets super-annoyed at the mis-use of the profile cut-away these days. It's not cool, it's not edgy, it's just sloppy directing.
Well Mark... couple points...
1) First of all, I totally agree with you, that technique is "wrong" and just plain jarring. I believe that goes a bit hand-in-hand with the other cutaways we are often seeing, the behind-the-scenes or "setup" cutaways, where a talking head of someone being interviewed is cut away to a wider shot that shows the whole room with the myriad assortments of lights and cables and grip gear. The first time I saw that I wanted to scream "Why????" because it made no sense to me... although I did on occasion like seeing how the lighting plots were designed. At least though it doesn't break any "rules" and does follow the language of film. It is still weird though, nonetheless.
This other technique, though, I just can't wrap my brain around. Why you would ever cut from talent speaking to camera to another shot where they were not does nothing but baffle me. It's a puzzler. And it's just plain wrong. I'm a huge fan of "Dateline" on NBC (and I would gladly listen to Keith Morrison read the phone book for an hour), but we're beginning to see that "wrong" technique on the intros to each segment of that show. I haven't noticed it happening with Lester-Holt-hosted weekly prime time shows... but they have now syndicated Dateline into nightly versions and have new non-Lester-Holt talent doing the intros, and they always do that gawd-awful cut to a "B" camera while the talent is still talking to the "A" cam. Wrong wrong wrong.
2) Rant about it as much as you like, but I don't think this technique is going away any time soon. I think it is unfortunately gaining traction rather than losing it. But it still makes zero sense to me.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
Speaking as a user of this technique, I'd like to defend it for specific scenarios.
I use this technique for live and fast pseudo-live presentation-style setups. The wide shot is meant to be the "audience" view, and the closeup, which is inevitably a bit off-axis, is my detail catcher; either as a closeup to catch more nuanced facial expressions, or details of the product being presented. I often am shooting a CEO who has 10-15 minutes, tops, to actually shoot these, so I get one to two takes; the result is that these pieces have the feel of an off-the-cuff presentation, rather than as a highly scripted piece. Think of it like the shot that appears on a jumbotron on a stage presentation--the speaker isn't always looking at the camera, but he's addressing the audience at large, and the camera is there to catch the things you wouldn't always see otherwise.
Now, Mark, if you're referring to the thing where we see the side of someone's head in a high-production-value documentary, I agree--that's a little weird. But for a less formal presentation-oriented context, I think it can be quite acceptable, especially if you pay attention to the lighting and framing.
Not if you're switching to unmotivated third person viewpoint for someone having a first-person conversation with the audience.
Yeah, I'm with Mark.
Sorry Blaise, but I'm not buying the defense. It may have become a common practice, but to my eyeballs it is still very very jarring and very wrong.
I suppose I've gotten used to seeing worse things before, still don't like it though.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
Yes, but that assumes that I'm trying to give the impression that there's a conversation between the presenter and audience. I'm not. The presenter is there to showcase the product, and a multi-camera environment is established by "live" cutaways to product details, etc.
My point is, it's NOT entirely unmotivated in certain contexts; we establish a secondary view of the object that the presenter is discussing, and usually handling, and additionally, we use that secondary view as a closer shot on the presenter when detail shots of the product aren't relevant.
You're not going to convince me that a profile shot of the presenter's face makes any sense in a context of that presenter addressing the lens in the main shot. If you are having an eye to eye "first person" conversation with the lens, the lens standing in for the audience, a sudden side profile cut-away of your head looking 45 degrees off the lens, though the same conversation is still taking place, makes no sense to me and I don't think it ever will.
It's an attempt at an affectation, like the one used so much in soap operas, where a person in a 2-person conversation turns away from the other person and keeps talking, but they've turned 180 degrees to face the camera, usually in extreme closeup and close foreground, maybe with the other actor in the frame over the shoulder, in deep background.
It's an artificial construct from stage acting.
Nobody really holds conversations like that, not for more than a few seconds, anyway, in real life. If I talked to you face to face and suddenly did a 180 turn on my heel and held most of the rest of the discussion facing directly away from you, you would think there was something wrong with me.
The point of the soap opera 2-shot is to communicate some interior emotional information in the facing actor, usually their attempt to hide a deep dark secret or disguise an emotion that would give them away.
None of that artifice applies in the presenter shot you're talking about, when that presenter is addressing the camera.
It is "okay" to use that shot when your camera is an omniscient 3rd person view...
Because the lens is not the entity being addressed. It's witnessing but not involved.
Well then why bother starting a "discussion" about it? 😉
I get it, you have strong feelings about it, but all your examples are based on narrative, which really has no bearing on the (sole) context in which I use this technique. That is, for a multi-camera, product-focused shoot in which (a) we're trying to preserve a live feel, or actually broadcasting live, (b) need a cutaway shot showcasing product features which will, inevitably, result in off-axis eyelines, and (c) still need to use the secondary shot to cover minor edits, in the case that we're not broadcasting live.
My point being, in many ways my use of it is much closer to live event coverage; just as we don't complain that a TED speaker isn't looking at the active camera at all times, in the presentation-oriented context, it's not always crucial that eyelines are preserved. Camera 1 is always the direction of the audience, but camera 2 needs to rove in order to pick up details of the presentation that the audience (i.e. camera 1, in a wider shot) wouldn't necessarily see without the assistance of the second view.
Your TED example is not relevant because TED speakers are not addressing the camera as primary audience. TED presentations are third-person observations of the speaker talking to a crowd, interspersed with cut-aways to graphics and more.
Know Vince? "Hey, are you seeing this, camera-guy?"
Vince's presentation is all first-person to the camera. Yes, he has cut-aways, he has wide-shots, he has close-ups, but wherever you see his head, his eyes are on the lens. Always. He is talking "first person" to one person in that lens, one viewer. He's not giving you a profile shot of his head looking at someone off-camera as a cut-away. It would not make sense in the context of the presentation.
But people who don't get this first-person/third-person distinction are making this mistake every day.
When Ron Popeil is presenting, he's presenting to a live studio audience. There, you CAN take a side profile of Ron, with or without his rotating ginsu knife broiler. Because it's a third-person view of a conversation he's having with an audience.
I really don't know how else I can make you understand the distinction.
All I want in my career is to be better than Vince--I know it well ☺
I get it--but here's what you're not hearing from my end: I WANT to create the sense of a live presentation. I do it on purpose, to facilitate that feel, in the cases that I use it. Whether there's a real audience or not, I shoot it as though there is because in these cases, the company I do these for is addressing their customers as a tribe, collectively, not like Vince, who's trying to hustle you one-on-one.